Kansas Basketball: Why Jayhawks Can't Overlook Texas in Early Big 12 Battle
Texas head coach Rick Barnes has not finished below .500 as a head coach since the 1991-92 season—at Providence.
In 14 years in Austin, Barnes has not even sniffed the .500 mark, coming the closest during his first year of 1998-99, when he posted a 19-13 record. He has also led the Longhorns to the NCAA Tournament in each of those 14 years, but both impressive streaks are in grave danger of ending as 8-8 Texas prepares to host No. 4 Kansas on Saturday.
The Longhorns defense might by the only thing keeping those streaks alive, and it starts with an aggressive performance Saturday against KU.
With an 0-3 conference record, the Longhorns, losers of three straight (and four of their last five and six of their last nine), are one of the least intimidating teams in college basketball, as they rest quietly in the Big 12 basement behind perennial cellar-dweller Texas Tech.
We all know about the notoriously confusing loss to Chaminade, a Division II squad that had losses against Dixie State, Grand Canyon, Cedarville and Western Washington. Good luck identifying the location of the first three without Wikipedia.
Yet the Kansas Jayhawks, a heavy favorite over Texas in their Saturday matchup in Austin, should not overlook Rick Barnes' stumbling team.
The Longhorns are currently the No. 1-ranked defense in the country in opponents' field-goal percentage, as they are yielding an astonishing clip of 34.3 percent.
This extraordinary defense is bad news for a KU team that has looked uncomfortable on offense in early Big 12 play, oftentimes failing to string efficient possessions together despite the improved play of point guard Elijah Johnson.
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Freshman shooting guard Ben McLemore leads the team in scoring but suffered a sprained ankle in the Jayhawks' win over Baylor on Monday. Self does not expect the soon-to-be NBA lottery pick to miss time, but it is likely his ability to stretch the floor will be limited, thus allowing that suffocating Texas defense to pinch in on Jeff Withey, Kevin Young and the KU frontcourt.
However, Kansas boasts the No. 2 scoring defense in the country and is also second in blocked shots per game with 7.8, led by Withey's 4.7.
Furthermore, the offensively challenged Longhorns average a paltry 64.1 points per game, good enough for 255th in the nation, and they hit only 40.1 percent of all field-goal attempts. The Julien Lewis-led team has only scored more than 70 points four times this season.
The poor offensive performance is largely due to repeated turnovers (16 per game) and a horrible assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.75. The numbers only continue to stack up against Texas.
The Jayhawks will open the Frank Erwin Center doors with a low-scoring affair against an underachieving, thin roster—a roster looking for a major resume-building win, as they only have four ranked opponents remaining on the schedule.
Kansas' recent history is littered with uninspiring road performances against Oklahoma State in 2009-10, Kansas State in 2010-11 and Iowa State last season.
However, this is not a concerning epidemic, as they have overcome those road upsets to win eight straight conference titles.
Rick Barnes, with 533 career wins, is more than willing to notch that road upset for the Jayhawks, as his team has had six long days off since an embarrassing blowout in Ames. His 2008-09 team had lost four of six conference games before defeating the No. 2-ranked Oklahoma Sooners at home.
The numbers stack up immensely in Bill Self and Kansas' favor for another win in Austin since they possess a deeper roster, dynamic scorers and a dominant big man, but the team seeking its ninth straight conference title must not overlook another underachieving team on the road.
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